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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, June 14, 2024

Sixteen dreams for European glory

With one matchday left in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League, the remaining eligible teams will fight for a spot in the knockout stage.

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The UEFA Champions League ball is pictured.

Alejandro Garnacho might have scored the goal of the season against Everton, but the jitters from the Argentine’s magical strike would soon fade on the back of a potentially season-defining draw in Turkey. Before Manchester United’s trip to Istanbul on Nov. 29, qualification for the knockout stage was in their hands. The historic treble-winners started strong, Garnacho riding high from the weekend as he scored the first goal. In the 18th minute, captain Bruno Fernandes doubled the lead. But just as football writers prepared their match reports confirming Man United’s qualification, two costly goalkeeping errors from André Onana gifted Galatasaray a 3-3 draw.

With that draw, Group A is wide open. Apart from Bayern Munich, who are locked in first, all teams could qualify for the Round of 16. On the final matchday, United host the undefeated Bavarian giants, while Galatasaray travels to Denmark to face FC Copenhagen. A win for either would book their tickets to the knockouts, but a draw would give Man United a chance if they were to beat Bayern Munich. It’ll be interesting to see Thomas Tuchel’s selection for Bayern, as there’s nothing on the line for his team. On the flip side, Man United must start with a dynamic, attacking lineup, hoping to score early and then protect their lead.

Group B sees Arsenal locked in first, while PSV Eindhoven looks likely to follow in second. Sevilla, Sergio Ramos’s boyhood club, are rock bottom but will hope to win on the final matchday to boost their chances for Europa League qualification. In Group C, serial winners Real Madrid are poised to finish first with Napoli, last season’s semi-finalists, sitting in second. Group D is set with Inter Milan and Real Sociedad tied for first with 11 points each. Their midweek clash in Milan will determine who takes the top spot. Like Group D, Group E has its top two secured with Atletico Madrid and Lazio outclassing Feyenoord and Celtic in previous matches. Atletico will be favored to top the group as they host Maurizio Sarri’s Lazio on Wednesday.

When this year’s draw was announced, the group on everyone’s mind was Group F. The “group of death” dealt four teams all capable of beating each other, with star-studded squads and tournament history to boast of. Kylian Mbappe-inspired PSG, seven-time winners A.C Milan, talent-factory Borussia Dortmund and recently Saudi-bought Newcastle United have all locked horns over the last few months. Dortmund are first with 10 points and have qualified for the next round. They host second-place PSG who will hope to leapfrog their German rivals Borussia Dortmund, but will have to defeat them with a significant goal margin. If they lose, however, both Newcastle and A.C. Milan have a chance to grab second spot with a win. It’s anybody’s game.

Groups G and H are more straightforward. Manchester City, defending champions, and R.B Leipzig will be first and second in Group G, while Barcelona should top Group H as they face Antwerp in their final match. The second spot in that group will be decided in what promises to be a fiery encounter between Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk. With a superior goal difference, Porto can qualify with a draw and might set up defensively. Portuguese legend José Macia, AKA “Pepe,” who is also the oldest goalscorer in the competition’s history, will anchor Porto’s defensive line.

The final matchday promises to be a memorable one in this year’s Champions League. Several underdogs dream of knockout glory as major heavyweights face elimination. Drama awaits.